This is roughly the sermon I gave at Chalice Christian Church in Gilbert, Arizona on April 15, 2007. Unfortunately, I forgot the reference to jihad, which is too bad because I think the focus on work and internal struggle may make this sermon thematically close to Islam in same another was influenced by Buddhism.
The last day of a deployment is fundamentally different from every other day. For one thing, you get up and instead of putting on our little jump suits; we put on our proper khaki uniforms complete with silver bars on my collar and gold dolphins over my breast pocket. You also let yourself think about home again, something that you had forbidden yourself from doing the previous months.
One of the torments of that last day is how long it takes to pull a nuclear submarine into port. About two hours before you get home they “station the maneuvering watch,” which means everyone has a job to do. But of course, no one can see because you’re on a submarine. Guys are always asking, where are we? We just made the turn at ledge light. How about now? We just passed under Thames River draw. How about now? We’re along side the pier.
The ceremonial celebrating starts, as soon as the tug has cast off its lines. All of the other submarines sound their whistles to acknowledge Billfish has returned home. But before you can get off you have to bring on shore power and double the lines and bring on the brow and send a message to squadron. All this Navy stuff, when all you want to do is see you family. (And in fact, everyone in control has already turned the periscope that directions just to make sure they are there—and of course they always are.)
But eventually, you come up out of that black submarine and turn to salute the flag. You cross the brow and there is your family. You pick the kids up in your arms and give your wife a kiss for the first time in six months.
That, my friends, is a hallelujah moment.
Do you know when the risk for domestic violence is greatest among families attached to sea going commands? Shortly after returning from deployment.
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Today I am going to talk about three different ways in which we experience and cope with getting to work after the hallelujah moments. The first sense is literally doing the work—as in the mission and ministries here at Chalice.
Act One: Mission work and supporting the church
For one thing, here at Chalice we need to keep at the work of making church happen. Indeed, we’ve just taken on a lot more work in committing to build a building. Exciting, yes; but also a lot of work. And the church doesn’t set up itself. Also, how wonderful is it to have a choir? How many of us have taught and been taught in Sunday school or participated in worship and wonder? We do so much, and there is so much to do.
And of course, we do more than just have church. It was hard work to bring four refugee families to this country. But after years of struggle, the Has have been reunited with their daughter left behind in Vietnam. Judi literally labored with Halima. We also helped Kabiz Golsham from Iran and the Moumands from Afghanistan. Stretching our arms out around the globe. Amen! But now, guess what? It is time for us to take on a new family.
How many of us have worked at Paz de Cristo on the third Sundays? Or brought water to people crossing in the desert? Or bought a cow or a goat for the heifer project? Or brought food for Hunger No More? What a blessing it is to be able to help people so directly. But there are more hungry and more thirsty.
Why do all of the work? I’ll tell you why, in so doing we see God. And I mean that in as literal a sense as I possibly could. When I am sitting next to Kate and Scotty and Kelly are playing something amazing, and I’m moved—there is something more than the people in this room and I call that God. When I meet the eyes of man I’m giving a scoop of sloppy joes to, there is more there than a guilty liberal and a drug addict having their needs met—and I call that God. I need this to remind about why I’m here, about why I believe. .
Act Two: Evangelizing to others.
This brings me to the second aspect of hard work—standing up for your faith. Now, look, I know what you’re thinking, “Settle down Jim. Standing up for your faith sound a little confrontational.” Fair enough, but lucky for me, that is exactly what the scripture is about this morning.
The Sanhedrin has just called the Apostles in front of them. The organized church is a little fed up with these guys. You see, the Sanhedrin represents serious church. These apostles have been shooting their mouths off about their Rabbi—even blaming the Sanhedrin for his death.
Okay now look, Peter was in a tough spot. This is the real church, and it’s got some measure of political power. And what does Peter have? He has only his experience with Jesus, and his faith–only the Holy Spirit. With all do respect to the author of Mathew, when Peter was under the gun, he did not chose to point out how Jesus had fulfilled various prophesies from the Torah. It is just as well, because I don’t think they would have bought it. Instead he witnessed to their experience of the Holy Spirit. And thank goodness he did, because had Peter not had the courage to stand up for his faith, Jesus’ ministry would have ended—resurrection or no resurrection.
I remember being at a coffee shop I spent a lot time at in upstate New York. The coffee shop was sort of a safe haven for gay men in the community. And one of the guys who had recently come out was pretty angry. He was arguing that all Christians hated gays, when I told him that I was a Christian. He said he knew that because I talked about it all of the time. Then I said, “Well, I don’t hate gays,” and he responded, “then you are not a real Christian.” I read almost that same argument recently in a book called “The End of Faith by Sam Harris. The argument goes like this: An essential tenet of any religion is that all other religions have nothing to offer—for example an essential tenet of Christianity is that non-Christians will go to hell. What of the numerous churches that do not accept that notion? Well, they have moderated their views in response to western civilization: But pure or real or serious Christians don’t accept others. Those that do accept others are half Christians.
I don’t want to pick on the religious right, they take a lot of abuse, but many of them make the same argument. They are serious Christians and our tolerance means we are lesser. Like the Sanhedrin they are saying we should cut it out and accept the views of serious Christians that abortion is a sin; as is homosexuality—and to accept differing views on these topics means we are less serious Christians.
You have to stand up to these people. When you hear it at work, or from your friends, don’t let them convince you that you are less of a Christian. Indeed, witness to them how you have felt God move in you. Witness to them the loving gospel you’ve experience here. Because if you don’t, this will all go away.
Act Three: Developing your own faith.
So, this brings us to our third topic, which is about something even worse than this church ceasing to be. I know what you’re saying, “An end of our church, what could be worse than that?” Well, what is worse than that is an unexamined and impotent faith. So, the third way of exerting ourselves is giving our best efforts to challenge our own faith. A sort of internal revolution, what our Muslim brothers and sisters would call the jihad against one’s self. By talking through our faith we will clarify things for ourselves. That includes clarifying what questions we need to ask and focusing or reflections to allow a more mature faith.
For the children’s sermon I used the Emperor’s New Clothes. I did that because at times in my life I have felt afraid to question certain things. I have thought that certain tenets of faith are beyond questioning. I have since rejected that notion.
What do you mean by God? When you say God is real, do you mean God is a sort of goodness in the hearts of men, or beauty in nature, or is there something more? What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ? Is it about virgin birth? Is it about a bodily resurrection? Is it about miracles?
We need to ask these questions because otherwise our faith cannot grow. And the faith you had as a child cannot feed your soul as an adult. It is hard work, and indeed it is an act of faith to recognize that asking these question will not destroy God. I promise you, at the end of the search God will still be there.
Where do we go from here?
Imagine what would happen if we all saw/felt/experienced God more often through the various missions and ministries available to us. Imagine if we had the courage to tell other people about what we have found in that experience. Imagine if as a part of the conversation that comes from the telling we all continued to challenge our own faith until it became our own, to the point that it had impact on our lives? And maybe the strengthened faith would in turn move us to more opportunities to experience God through mission. Imagine. We would be able to take this hallelujah moment, this resurrection; and transform it into a revolution. Amen.